Canine Breed Menu

Portuguese Shepherd

Portuguese Shepherd

No Additional Pictures
Breed Organization
United Kennel Club (UKC)
Native Country
Other Names
Estrela Mountain Dog, Portuguese Sheepdog, Cao da Serra da Estrela, Serra da Estrela Mountain Dog
Life Expectancy
Approximately 9-12 Years
Litter Size
Average 6-8 Puppies
Breed Group
Flock Guardian
Breed Appearance
The Estrela Mountain Dog is a breed of dog that has been used to guard herds and homesteads in the Estrela Mountains of Portugal for centuries.

Breed Description
Breed Description
Head: Strong and capacious. Convex profile to the skull. Stop not pronounced. Powerful jaws. Elongated nose bridge.
Ears: Small, narrow, triangular with rounded tips, drop. Cropped ears are permissible.
Eyes: Medium size, oval. Dark amber color preferred. Black rims.
Body: Compact. Short, thick neck. Deep, broad, rounded brisket. Short, broad loin. Short back. Croup slightly sloped
Tail: Long, carried down reaching the tip of the hock joint. Richly clad (feathering in long-haired variety).
Hair: Thick, slightly coarse, rather goatlike, smooth or slightly wavy. Two varieties exist; the long-haired variety is the most common, while the short-haired variety has almost disappeared.
Coat: Only shades of fawn, wolf gray and yellow, solid color or parti-color.
Size: Dog: 65 to 72 cm (25.5-28 in).Bitch: 62 to 68 cm (24.5-27 in).
Weight: Dog: 40 to 50 kg (88-110 lb).Bitch: 30 to 40 kg (66-88 lb).

The earliest of the Estrela ancestors were herd-guarding dogs in the Serra da Estrela, in what is now Portugal. Since there are no written records, it is not known for sure whether the ancestors which contributed to this breed were brought by the Romans when they colonized the Iberian Peninsula, or later by the invading Visigoths. Regardless, there is no disagreement that the Estrela is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal.

Those early guardian dogs were not the distinct breed we know today. Rather, the Estrela developed over a period of hundreds of years. Shepherds would have chosen to breed the dogs that had the characteristics necessary to survive in their mountain environment and to do their job: large size, strength, endurance, agility, a deep chest, ability to tolerate a marginal diet, the set of the legs, a powerful mouth, a tuft of hair around the neck, an easy, jog-like gait, a warm coat, and a watchful, mistrustful, yet loyal temperament. Since the region was isolated, there was little breeding with non-native dogs, leading to the purity of the breed.

Life changed little for the people and dogs of the region, even into the 20th century. The isolation of the region meant the breed was relatively unknown outside it until the early 1900s, and even then, they were mostly ignored in early dog shows. The Portuguese admired foreign breeds much more than their own. Shepherds often castrated their dogs to prevent them from leaving their flocks to mate. These factors had a negative effect on the Estrela. So from 1908 to 1919, special shows called concursos were held to promote and preserve the Estrela breed in the region. During this period there was some attempt at a registry (of which there is no surviving record). Special livestock guardian working trials were included in these shows.

The first, tentative, recorded breed standard was published in 1922. This standard only reflected the functional features naturally found in the best dogs of the time, although it did mention having dew claws as reflecting a "perfect" dog. The characteristic hooked tail and turned-back (rosed) ears, which later became part of the official standard, were not mentioned in this preliminary standard.

The first official breed standard was written in 1933. This standard attempted to differentiate the Estrela as a distinct breed. This led to the hooked tail and double dew claws becoming a requirement. All colors were allowed. The standard has undergone small refinements since then. For example, dew claws became optional by 1955, and the allowed colors have been limited a few times to achieve today's current set.

Prior to World War II, the Estrela breeders were still primarily the shepherds and farmers of the region. Since they were mostly illiterate, they did not make any attempt to follow the official breed standard, if they even knew one existed. But by the early 1950s, interest in the breed returned, and the annual concursos were reinstated. Again the intent was to stimulate interest among the Serra residents and to encourage them to adhere to the official standard. During this period, the long-haired variety was most popular at shows, but "show dogs" represented (and still do) only a small portion of the Estrela population in Portugal. Many of the working dogs were (and are) short-haired.

Early in the 1970s, interest was steeply declining. There was some concern about the degeneration and even possible extinction of the breed. But the Portuguese revolution of 1974 helped save the Estrela. It led to changes both in dog shows in Portugal and in Portuguese dog breeds. Prior to the revolution, dog showing had largely been a pastime of the wealthy, with their preference for non-Portuguese breeds as status symbols. Now, working people could and did show the native dogs they preferred. Also, with the revolution came an increase in crime and thus more interest in guard dogs.

There is no record of the Estrela outside Portugal prior to 1972. While some undoubtedly did leave the country, they were probably interbred, with no effort to maintain the breed. In 1972 and 1973, pairs were imported to the US. Others were probably imported into the US since then, but it was not until 1998 that the first papered dog was imported into the United States. The United Kingdom was the first country to establish the breed outside Portugal in 1972. Today the Estrela can be found in many countries.

Today, the Estrela Mountain Dog remains true to its guardian heritage. It is still a working dog, guarding flocks in its native Portugal and elsewhere (the Portuguese Marines had even used them as patrol dogs). It is also an ideal family pet because of its alertness, loyalty, intelligence, and it's instinct to nurture young; all features it needed in its earliest days.

This impassive dog has quick reflexes. He is extremely hardy, energetic, and courageous. The Estrela Mountain Dog is devoted to protecting the flock and works hard as a defense dog and draft dog. His exceptional sense of smell makes him a good hunter. Distrustful of strangers, and even aggressive, he is known as an excellent guard dog. Docile and calm with his owners, he makes an excellent family pet. Firm, but gentle, training must be started at a very early age.

Estrela Mountain Dogs have relatively few health problems, of these are hip dysplasia and gastric problems.

This dog is not suited to city living. He needs exercise and room to run to expend his energy. Regular brushing is required for the long-haired variety.

Herder, Guard Dog, Police Dog, Army Dog, Pet.

Horse Herd